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History of the True Original Church

By Bishop Glenda Green, D.D. with Archbishop Larry Jensen, D.D., Ph.D

Introduction

It is with great humil­i­ty, in respect of this true priv­i­lege, that I present the his­to­ry of Spiri­tis Church. For in so doing, I am pre­sent­ing evi­dence of the Orig­i­nal Church of Jesus and the Apos­tles con­tin­u­ing to spread in yet anoth­er gen­er­a­tion. This is a sto­ry as old as faith itself, mov­ing through his­to­ry in unbro­ken suc­ces­sion, one per­son at a time. This is not the sto­ry of insti­tu­tion­al hier­ar­chy and doc­trine, although both of those pow­ers were also impor­tant in shap­ing Chris­tian­i­ty as we know it today. This is essen­tial­ly the sto­ry of how the Jesus fel­low­ship, known in his life­time and for a gen­er­a­tion beyond as “The Way” moved through his­to­ry under the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it and Love regard­less of — and often in spite of — insti­tu­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion and issues of doc­trine.

I was once asked by one of our sem­i­nary can­di­dates why I want­ed to “found” a new church at a time when reli­gious con­flicts were reach­ing a fever pitch and enlight­en­ment had demon­strat­ed that faith was the greater pow­er over orga­ni­za­tion any­way. Stunned for a moment by her unex­pect­ed ques­tion, I paused to exam­ine the truth of my posi­tion. Just as quick­ly I sur­prised myself with the answer. “I did not found a church. The Church “found” me!” Were this not the case, and were it not for the splen­did edu­ca­tion and guid­ance of Bish­op Lee Petersen and Bish­op Lar­ry Jensen I would not be in this posi­tion of fur­ther­ing an ancient and eter­nal work.

Even though I have been blessed with a sacred vis­i­ta­tion by Jesus Christ on more than one occa­sion, and the anoint­ing of the Holy Spir­it many times, it would not have been my choice to serve their will through orga­nized reli­gious venues. Until the time that I was cho­sen for inclu­sion in the orig­i­nal apos­tolic suc­ces­sion I had envi­sioned my ser­vice to be loose­ly and specif­i­cal­ly under the guid­ance of Love alone. Even when I was first invit­ed to accept an Apos­tolic Vic­arage to pro­tect the new mes­sages of Jesus, I accept­ed only out of respect for the hon­or that was being paid to the labors of my heart. I also rea­soned that by way of fel­low­ship with oth­ers of sim­i­lar ded­i­ca­tion I would receive sup­port and per­haps a tem­per­ing dis­ci­pline that could only strength­en my ser­vice. Oth­er­wise, I would have con­tin­ued as before, with a spir­it of free­dom under the guid­ance of Love. Lit­tle did I know at the time that this is exact­ly what Jesus orig­i­nal­ly ordained! Through the guid­ance of the Holy Spir­it, I had been lift­ed into “The Way” and not con­scious­ly real­ized it.

When Jesus said to His Apos­tles, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to every crea­ture,” he released them from all con­fin­ing struc­tures and com­mis­sioned them to serve with the utmost com­pas­sion, tol­er­ance, and accep­tance every­where. This is a rad­i­cal con­cept even now, but imag­ine the impact of such an instruc­tion at a time when “The Way” was thought to be just anoth­er sect with­in Judaism! What hap­pened in the suc­ceed­ing 2000 years is a mar­vel and a mir­a­cle. Not every act with­in every chap­ter is some­thing to be proud of, but the extra­or­di­nary vic­to­ry of a small group of believ­ers has changed the world. Not only did this faith sur­mount oppo­si­tion from exter­nal forces, but also it resist­ed and sur­vived the inter­nal dom­i­na­tion of cor­rupt­ing struc­tures. When Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” he was refer­ring most inti­mate­ly to the future des­tiny of his own fol­low­ing.

The tri­umph of Chris­tian­i­ty has immense his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. It began with a small group of faith­ful men and women from the back waters of the Roman Empire and expand­ed so vig­or­ous­ly in three cen­turies that their beliefs per­me­at­ed the whole Empire and some­how become the offi­cial reli­gion. In fact, by the end of the 4th cen­tu­ry, it was the only tol­er­at­ed reli­gion of the Roman Empire! That is a tru­ly remark­able phe­nom­e­non. How it hap­pened is not clear­ly known but is def­i­nite­ly a mir­a­cle of per­se­ver­ance. We can clear­ly iden­ti­fy var­i­ous stages on the path of Chris­tian­i­ty, as it moved toward its ulti­mate vic­to­ry. In its first stage, Chris­tian­i­ty begins not as a reli­gion, but as a move­ment of peo­ple around the man we call Jesus — a sin­gle charis­mat­ic teacher. He offered a love-direct­ed, egal­i­tar­i­an world­view at a time in Jew­ish his­to­ry when uni­fi­ca­tion was imper­a­tive if destruc­tion was to be avoid­ed. Those who fol­lowed him had often had dif­fer­ent opin­ions about who he was, but we know that he was gen­er­al­ly regard­ed as a holy man by those who assem­bled in crowds to hear him speak or receive heal­ing.
The Way

In the New Tes­ta­ment sto­ries, it is clear­ly revealed that Jesus was prepar­ing his dis­ci­ples for a lev­el of lead­er­ship and spir­i­tu­al knowl­edge that was not yet revealed to the throngs of peo­ple who crowd­ed to hear him speak. In one par­tic­u­lar­ly direct state­ment, Jesus is quot­ed as say­ing, “Unto you it is giv­en to know the mys­tery of the king­dom of God: but unto them that are with­out, all these things are done in para­bles.” (Mark 4:11)  Jesus was teach­ing with­in a Jew­ish con­text hav­ing ancient laws, teach­ings, and prophe­cies, a new way to spir­i­tu­al ful­fill­ment and to reunion with God.  He had no inten­tion of chang­ing that foun­da­tion, but rather of ful­fill­ing it through pro­vid­ing an expand­ed under­stand­ing and more com­pas­sion­ate appli­ca­tions of it to life.  As his teach­ings gained more notice and his fol­low­ers became more cohe­sive, this new pow­er being unleashed first emerged as a sect with­in Judaism known as “The Way” or Ortha in Ara­ma­ic, the lan­guage that Jesus and his fol­low­ers spoke.

The arrest and cru­ci­fix­ion of Jesus had a ter­ri­fy­ing impact on his fol­low­ers — espe­cial­ly the inner cir­cle of Apos­tles.  But of greater impor­tance was the mir­a­cle of rev­e­la­tion that the res­ur­rec­tion gave them.  He appeared to them over a peri­od of forty days and spoke about the king­dom of God.  On one occa­sion, while he was eat­ing with them, he gave this com­mand:  “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John bap­tized with water, but in a few days you will be bap­tized with the Holy Spir­it.” With their typ­i­cal world­ly ori­en­ta­tion, they asked him: “Will the king­dom of Israel be restored at this time?”  He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own author­i­ty.  But you will receive pow­er when the Holy Spir­it comes on you.  And you will be my wit­ness­es in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  Upon say­ing this, he ascend­ed into Heav­en.  The Apos­tles walked back to Jerusalem, spend­ing much time togeth­er in prayer to strength­en their uni­ty.  But over­all, they were despon­dent with the loss of their beloved leader and some­what unfo­cused.  Jesus had taught them “a way” of liv­ing and wor­ship­ping, of valu­ing and serv­ing, but after his appar­ent depar­ture there was a great slack in the line, and they were sad.

The Apos­tles remained togeth­er as instruct­ed, along with the women beloved of Jesus and his fam­i­ly.  Then a mirac­u­lous event hap­pened on the feast day of Pen­te­cost, an agri­cul­tur­al fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ing and giv­ing thanks for the “first fruits” of the ear­ly spring har­vest.  On that day, some fifty days after the res­ur­rec­tion and ten days after his ascen­sion, the faith­ful in Jesus received the bap­tism of Holy Spir­it as Jesus had promised. Through the ful­fill­ing of his covenant, the First Church was born.  This sto­ry may be found in the Book of Acts, Chap­ter 2.  It reads as fol­lows:

1. When the day of Pen­te­cost came, they were all togeth­er in one place.
2. Sud­den­ly a sound like the blow­ing of a vio­lent wind came from heav­en and filled the whole house where they were sit­ting.
3. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that sep­a­rat­ed and came to rest on each of them.
4. All of them were filled with the Holy Spir­it and began to speak in tongues as the Spir­it enabled them.
5. Now there were stay­ing in Jerusalem God-fear­ing Jews from every nation under heav­en.
6. When they heard this sound, a crowd came togeth­er in bewil­der­ment, because each one heard them speak­ing in his own lan­guage.
7. Utter­ly amazed, they asked: Are not all these men who are speak­ing Galileans?
8. Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native lan­guage?
9. Parthi­ans and Medes and Elamites and those who live in Bet Nahrein, Judeans and Cap­podocians and from the coun­try of Pon­tus and Asia
10. And from the coun­try of Phry­gia and Pam­phylia and Egypt and the coun­tries of Libyans that are neigh­bors of Cyre­nia, and those that came from Rome, Jews and adher­ents.
11. And those from Crete and Ara­bia, behold, we heard them speak­ing in our lan­guage, won­ders of God!
12. Amazed and per­plexed, they asked one anoth­er, “What does this mean?”
13. Oth­ers, how­ev­er, laughed at them, as they said, “They have had too much wine.”
14. Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fel­low Jews and all of you, who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; lis­ten care­ful­ly to what I say.
15. These men are not drunk, as you sup­pose. It’s only nine in the morn­ing!
16. No, this is what the prophet Joel spoke:
17. ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my spir­it on all peo­ple. Your sons and daugh­ters will proph­esy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
18. Even on my ser­vants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spir­it in those days, and they will proph­esy.

By the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it the First Church was born. The event was so pro­found, and those who expe­ri­enced it were so ecsta­t­ic that 3,000 more peo­ple were bap­tized and added to the fol­low­ers of Jesus that day.  With pro­found imme­di­a­cy the Church of The Holy Spir­it (Spir­i­tus Sanc­ti) was estab­lished.

This is the Church that would spread through­out the world.  It would diver­si­fy great­ly in the nature of ser­vice, accep­tance, and inclu­sion.  But two things were ever con­stant: there was rev­er­ence for the Holy Spir­it, and all the sacra­ments that con­veyed its pres­ence and redeem­ing pow­er.   The love expressed and taught by Jesus was cen­tral to the mes­sage, which was retold end­less­ly in the sto­ries of his life and res­ur­rec­tion.  Though there was no offi­cial orga­ni­za­tion of the Church at this time, the Pow­er behind it was known by all, and the remem­brance of this Pow­er threads its way through all the sacra­ments cel­e­brat­ed through all the ages: It was the Church of Spir­i­tus Sanc­ti, which is Latin for Holy Spir­it.

Chris­tian­i­ty did not start out as a uni­fied move­ment. We have to remem­ber that the dis­ci­ples were prob­a­bly dis­persed at the very begin­ning.   That was at a time before they knew them­selves as Chris­tians, before there were any fixed ideas about what Chris­t­ian beliefs or rit­u­als should be.  There were no uni­form require­ments even about their per­cep­tions of Jesus or what they should tell oth­ers about him. The sources that we have tell us that Chris­tian­i­ty start­ed as a mul­ti­form process, and the Church adapt­ed as it moved into very dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al and lan­guage con­texts.  In the first cen­tu­ry we would be more cor­rect to call it the Jesus move­ment.  In the ear­ly days after his depar­ture, the teach­ing began to orga­nize and reor­ga­nize around his mem­o­ry.  The cen­tral theme was the res­ur­rec­tion.  That pro­found mir­a­cle seems to have spread very quick­ly among his fol­low­ers, but the ear­li­est form of that move­ment was still thor­ough­ly a sect with­in Judaism. He was a Jew­ish Mes­si­ah. They were fol­low­ers of a Jew­ish apoc­a­lyp­tic tra­di­tion, and they were expect­ing the com­ing of the king­dom of God on earth.

The ear­li­est con­gre­ga­tions were prob­a­bly small sec­tar­i­an groups. At least one of them seems to be based in Jerusalem, and there were oth­ers as well spread through­out the coun­try­side.  In all prob­a­bil­i­ty there’s at least one or more in the Galilee.  It is rea­son­able to believe that the ear­li­est gath­er­ings of peo­ple to cel­e­brate Jesus’ mem­o­ry and prac­tice his teach­ings were real­ly small pock­ets of com­mu­nal sup­port all focused on this iden­ti­ty of Jesus as the Mes­si­ah and the heal­ing pow­er of the Holy Spir­it.

It’s hard to know, in all the cas­es, who the ear­li­est group mem­bers were. We know a few names large­ly from the New Tes­ta­ment itself.  In Jerusalem, James the broth­er of Jesus seems to have been the leader. There was a woman by the name of Mary in the Jerusalem con­gre­ga­tion as well as Peter and some of the oth­er orig­i­nal apos­tles of Jesus.   Beyond that we know very few names. There were just small con­claves of peo­ple hold­ing on tight­ly to their new beliefs and expec­ta­tions while at the same time con­tin­u­ing in their Jew­ish tra­di­tion. The Jesus move­ment was at first a sect, and sects have an inter­est­ing behav­ior pat­tern. One of the things they must do is to dis­tin­guish them­selves from their dom­i­nant cul­tur­al envi­ron­ment while remain­ing to some degree part of it.  A sect always aris­es with­in a com­mu­ni­ty with whom it shares a basic set of beliefs, and yet it needs to find some mech­a­nism for iden­ti­fy­ing itself as dif­fer­ent. The ten­sion that arose from that was man­i­fest­ed in a vari­ety of ways.  There were con­tro­ver­sies over belief and prac­tice such as dif­fer­ent ideas of puri­ty and piety. But, anoth­er man­i­fes­ta­tion of ten­sion was a rest­less­ness and zeal to spread the mes­sage out, to hit the road, and to con­vince oth­ers that their ver­sion of the truth was bet­ter. What we would call evan­ge­lists today were called in those days “wan­der­ing charis­mat­ics,” trav­el­ing preach­ers and prophets who con­tin­ued vig­or­ous­ly pro­claim­ing that the king­dom of heav­en was at hand, appar­ent­ly con­tin­u­ing the lega­cy of Jesus’ own preach­ing. They trav­eled around with­out mon­ey or extra clothes, per­form­ing mir­a­cles and heal­ing the sick for free.  They appar­ent­ly begged for food or expect­ed the char­i­ty of those who received them. This is a dif­fer­ent pic­ture than what we’ve come to expect from the pages of the New Tes­ta­ment and yet, it’s with­in the tra­di­tion itself.  Even Paul reports that he encoun­tered peo­ple who came from Judea with a dif­fer­ent kind of gospel mes­sage.  Variety—not conformity—was the typ­i­cal pres­ence of ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty.

This runs con­trary to the view that main­stream Chris­tian­i­ty has always, under­stand­ably, want­ed to con­vey. That is, at the begin­ning there was only clar­i­ty and con­for­mi­ty of belief—that only grad­u­al­ly, under out­side influ­ences, did here­sies arise and con­flict emerge.  One of the most chal­leng­ing aspects of mod­ern his­tor­i­cal schol­ar­ship is pre­cise­ly that easy answers elude us. The hard­er we work to deter­mine the first moment when Chris­tian­i­ty was uni­fied and every­thing was clear, the more we must real­ize that the only true uni­ty the Church has ever known is the per­son of Jesus Christ him­self and the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it.

The Way” was prop­a­gat­ed through the ser­vice of love and devel­op­ment of com­mu­ni­ties with a strong will to find lib­er­a­tion and deliv­er­ance from Roman oppres­sion.  The voice of free­dom would always be strong with­in it.  Their desire for lib­er­a­tion and their spir­it of car­ing seemed to defy con­for­mi­ty.  On the con­trary it cre­at­ed a turn of heart and mind infi­nite­ly adapt­able to the many cul­tures it would enter and infuse with its spir­it.

Invis­i­bil­i­ty was the great­est ally of the ear­ly con­gre­ga­tions, a sense of com­mu­ni­ty was their great­est strength, and con­vic­tion in deliv­er­ance was their dri­ving force.  There­fore, “The Way” had lit­tle need for nam­ing itself, and con­gre­ga­tions rarely con­sid­ered their col­lec­tive unit to be a “church.”  “The Way” was a sect with­in Judaism, and it con­sid­ered its great­est val­ue to be the ful­fill­ment of mes­sian­ic prophe­cy.  For this rea­son, it upheld the greater good of Israel.  They were unit­ed in Spir­it — Spir­i­tus Sanc­ti — but the con­gre­ga­tions would not com­mon­ly refer to them­selves as “Chris­tians” until after the burn­ing of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 AD.

Iron­i­cal­ly, the cat­a­stroph­ic destruc­tion of Jerusalem cre­at­ed a new oppor­tu­ni­ty. For a short while, it was safer to be a “Chris­t­ian” than a Jew!  There was a need for dis­tanc­ing and pro­tec­tion, and it was in this pur­suit that con­gre­ga­tions first began to use open­ly the word Chris­t­ian.  But, I am mov­ing ahead of the sto­ry.  To under­stand the ori­gins of the word “Chris­t­ian” and its full impact, we need to first look at the con­tri­bu­tions of Paul and the Apos­tolic move­ment in gen­er­al.

Read more… The Apostolic Movement  /  The Tree & The Branches
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